The "mountain of doomed love", Kong Rei Mountain, beckons tourists from Kampong Chhnang town to the north.
n central Kampong Chhnang town, two dramatic statues mark a legendary tale of revenge
and bereavement of Pothy Sen and Neang Kong Rei.
Sen sits astride a flying horse, his hand raised to fend off a prone, stricken Kong
Rei trying to stop him from abandoning her.
The locale where this drama was supposedly played out is clearly visible from the
town's Psah Krom market on the east side of the Tonle Sap. From here one can clearly
see the outline of Kong Rei Mountain, which as any local will tell you resembles
a huge human figure lying on the ground.
The origins of that legendary reclining human figure-turned-mountain begin in Cambodia's
mythical "forests of giants", where 12 infant sisters were once abandoned
by their impoverished father. There the giant Neang Santema took the 12 foundlings
to be the servants of her daughter, Kong Rei.
Eventually tiring of the toil of their lives under the terrifying giants, the 12
fled their bondage and made their way to a neighboring kingdom where they were wed
en masse to its king, Preah Bath Rothasith.
But the giant San-tema was unwilling to allow the dozen former servants of her daughter
to live in even the relative freedom that polygamous relationships of the time allowed.
Instead, Santema concealed her identity - not a small matter considering her physical
stature and reputation - and charmed Rothasith into making her his 13th wife.
Once she had gained the trust and sympathy of her new husband, Santema feigned a
deadly illness, one that all the doctors and medicines of her husband failed to cure.
Santema capitalized on Rothasith's growing desperation and informed him that only
a potion concocted from the eyeballs of her 12 pregnant co-wives would save her life.
Entranced by Santema's wiles, Roth-asith ordered his soldiers to carve out the eyes
of 11 of the 12 women, with wife Neang Pov allowed to keep one of her eyes.
After their ritual mutilation, the now blind or nearly blind women were confined
in a cave, where they were forced to consume their newly born children one by one.
Only one-eyed Neang Pov was allowed to let her son, Pothy Sen, survive. In the darkness
of the cave with his blind, grief-crazed aunts, Sen quietly fortified himself with
dreams of revenge as he nourished himself with the flesh of his dead cousins.
When he became an adult, the evil Santema began to fear the consequences if Pothy
Sen became King. To circumvent any possible acts of revenge by Sen, Santema sent
him a letter instructing him to use it for passage into the Forest of Giants. In
fact, the letter was a death warrant that stated "When Pothy Sen arrives, eat
But the letter was cunningly altered by a hermit living in the forest to read : "When
Pothy Sen arrives, marry him to my daughter."
Thus when Pothy Sen entered the Forest of Giants, the letter was read and its instructions
obeyed by the sentinel giants. Unbeknownst to Santema, her beloved daughter Kong
Rei became the adoring wife of her greatest enemy.
Predictably, rather than fulfilling his conjugal duties Pothy Sen took advantage
of his new position to steal back the eyeballs of his long-suffering aunts along
with some magical potions designed to facilitate his escape.
When a stricken Kong Rei attempted to pursue Sen, he used the magical potion to
turn the land between them into water, allowing him to flee. Kong Rei cried until
the day she died, her body becoming the Kong Rei Mountain of Kampong Chhnang.
Kong Rei Mountain is one of the main tourist spots in Kampong Chhnang province,
particularly during Khmer New Year. Along with sightseers, the mountain attracts
spiritually motivated laymen and women who come to pray and meditate.
At the base of the mountain there is a hut for resident monks and lay followers to
do that. Leading from the hut to the top of the mountain is a path named plov sdach
While in previous decades a hike up the mountain involved the potential risk of encounters
with tigers and other animals, the area is now sadly denuded of wildlife.
Chan Pav, 40, a resident of Trabek village at the mountain's base, says that Kong
Rei's attraction for spiritually-minded visitors are caves that possess strong spiritual
power. While Pav said that spiritual power noticeably decreased during the Pol Pot
regime, recent peace and stability had put it on an upward trend.
"The scientists seem not to believe in spirit power, but we here must believe
in it because it is true," he said. "This mountain requires [visitors to
express] the truth. If not [they] will get trouble."